Sometimes it is not a good idea to have huge expectations when going to a restaurant. I thought I won the lottery when we got into El Celler De Can Roca in Girona, Spain. After all, it was rated the “#1 Restaurant in the World” last year by the highly-praised San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants. This year it dropped to #2. It is also a three-star Michelin restaurant. Reservations had to be booked a year in advance. Located an hour outside of Barcelona, people normally try to secure a table first and then plan a trip around the reservation. We had to take the fast train to Girona, and take a very expensive taxi ride home as the trains do not run after 10 pm.
We decided to get into Girona a few hours early and have a private tour of the historical city. The city is charming, clean and quiet, with winding, narrow streets with stone architecture. We seemed to be the only tourists walking to the sites.
It really is worth seeing if you are in the area. The city was untouched during the war and is perfectly preserved.
The restaurant is run by the three Roca brothers. Jordi is the Pastry Chef, Joan is the Executive Chef de Cuisine, and the other, Joseph, is more or less the GM and Sommelier. The restaurant has become legendary, and it was with great anticipation we entered this establishment. We were walked into a courtyard with minimalist landscaping and into the restaurant to check in. I didn’t find the hostess that friendly or welcoming. We had a glass of cava in the garden and then came inside to a simple, understated, contemporary restaurant to start our 22-course adventure. The outside of the restaurant had the vestiges of an estate home. The inside revealed a modernly renovated room that was light, bright and had green everywhere.
I don’t know if I am jaded but I did not find the evening a life-changing experience. I have had much more extraordinary meals elsewhere. For me Alinea is far and away much more creative and tasty. Meadowood in Napa, is also high on my list. I have had better service at one and two-star Michelin restaurants – for example, water glasses were not refilled, napkins were not refolded when one got up to use the facilities, I was not offered a spot to place my handbag (even though it continuously fell off my chair). Usually, at this caliber of restaurant they should anticipate your needs.
The restaurant offers two tasting meals (FYI – the prices have recently increased). One classic meal goes for 180 Euroes, with an accompanying optional wine pairing for 55 Euroes, or a larger festival meal goes for 195 Euroes with an optional wine pairing at a 90 Euro price tag. I didn’t come this far for the smaller meal! A good tip: if you want to do a wine pairing but can’t finish all your wine, the best thing to do is to share one pairing between two people.
I was still impressed with the level of technical precision, and the elaborate, complex dishes. But, was I blown away? Was each dish brilliant? Unfortunately, neither was the case for me. Of the 22 small bites, I would say 4-5 were standouts. The rest were merely good. There were was a lot of theatrical value, flavour explosions and original dishes.
I won’t discuss every dish, but we started with about 4-5 amuse bouche before the meal got underway. The first was impressive, which was called, “The World”. It came presented in a round paper globe and when lifted off it had food bites from five countries. One standout dish was the olive tree with green olive ice cream hanging from the branches. A favourite dish for me was the white asparagus with elderflower, mullet toe, dried apricot, ginger and acacia honey hollandaise sauce. It sounds a little weird but the flavours were perfectly balanced. There were about 4-5 fish dishes, with the best being the blackspot sea bream wrapped with a ratatouille. Another standout dish was the suckling pig with a salad of green papaya, Thai grapefruit, apple, coriander, chili pepper, lime and cashew.
The menu tried to showcase the best of Catalonia, with a seafood-heavy focus. Some dishes lacked intense flavours, or were fishy tasting. They offered a nice selection of breads, but it was nowhere near as wonderful as the French Laundry or Alinea’s. I can’t fault the presentations or the lovely dishes and utensils.
The desserts were good, especially the one called “Orange Colourology”, which had a gorgeous presentation. There is even a Turkish perfume where you just use your sense of smell. The dessert cart for me was underwhelming – even though it looked nice – I found none of the small pastries and chocolates to be memorable. The meal was very good, but for me, it was not something that made a lasting impression. It wasn’t culinary perfection, nor was the service impeccable.
I did go home with a much tighter zipper, though …